Helping children deal with grief

HOUGHTON – The grief children feel at the death of a loved one may not be realized by the adults around them, and helping children deal with those feelings and making adults aware of them is one of the purposes of the Community Coalition on Grief and Bereavement.

Marianne Berghefer, who is a member of the CCGB and the bereavement and volunteer coordinator for Portage Health Hospice, said although they may not want to do it at the time, it’s important for adults to talk with children about the death of a relative.

“A lot of times parents are lost in their own grief,” she said.

Berghefer said it’s wrong to tell children a recently deceased relative is “just sleeping,” or to say they “lost” a relative because children are confused by those euphemisms.

“That just isolates them even further,” she said.

The emotional and psychological issues which could develop in children caused by the death of a loved one or even a pet, if not addressed, often lead to problems, such as acting out, sleep deprivation and poor performance in school, Berghefer said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of them turn to alcohol or drug abuse,” she said.

The non-profit Community Coalition on Grief and Bereavement began in 1996 to address what its founders thought were unmet needs regarding grieving of people in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties. Its stated mission is to provide grief education, support and referrals to organizations and government agencies which may be able to provide further assistance. The CCGB offices are in Houghton.

According to written information from the CCGB, the organization includes representatives of various organizations and agencies, schools, hospitals, hospices and volunteers from the community. The CCGB has a 13-member board of directors, which meet four times a year.

Once a year, Berghefer said the CCGB presents a guest speaker to talk about a particular topic regarding grief and bereavement. From 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton, Dr. Larry Skendzel will give a free talk about the impact of loss and grief on children and teens. Skendzel is director of Camp Star, a bereavement camp for children and teens in Marquette. He is also medical director of the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans and Lake Superior Hospice.

Berghefer said representatives of the CCGB would like more people to take advantage of the organization.

“We’re not used as much as we would like to be,” she said.

Generally, Berghefer said as a society we don’t deal with grief and bereavement well. People are given three days of bereavement time from their work, then everything is supposed to be back to normal.

Children especially need strong guidance coping with grief, but Berghefer said that may be a problem for those adults around them.

“Adults have to recognize their own feelings about death,” she said.

The Community Coalition on Grief and Bereavement can be reached at 482-8048. Their website is